Osteopathy vs Chiropractic

Osteopath v Chiropractor

One of the most common questions we get asked as osteopaths is: “What is the difference between an osteopath and a chiropractor?”.  This post seeks to answer that age old question and hopefully allay a few myths.

First off, this is a personal opinion, and I have to be honest and say that I have never been to see a chiropractor.  If you were to ask another osteopath, other health professional – or even a chiropractor for that matter – you would be likely to get a different opinion.  In order to answer the question, I have done some research as well as listening to patients who have been to see chiropractors and spoken to other health professionals.

Perhaps it would be best to start off with the similarities.  Osteopaths and chiropractors are:

  • primary healthcare practitioners, who have undertaken 4-5 years of training to a degree or masters level;
  • regulated by their respective regulatory councils in NZ, which were formed as a result of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Acts (2003), and ensures that practitioners are competent and fit to practise;
  • ACC treatment providers and can initiate ACC claims.

Whilst osteopaths and chiropractors have commonalities, they also have differences:

  • Philosophy – chiropractors tend to be spine focussed believing that problems with the body are a result of the spine not functioning properly – what they term a “subluxation”; osteopaths tend to look at the body globally and the person holistically;
  • Treatment
    • Whilst both “manipulate” (osteopaths)/“adjust” (chiropractors), the latter have a reputation for doing more of it;
    • Osteopaths always use their hands to treat; chiropractors can use tools/instruments or tables to perform “adjustments”;
    • Osteopaths have a reputation for using more massage to work on soft tissues, eg, muscles;
    • Chiropractors tend to see patients more frequently – some sign patients up for a course of treatment; osteopathic consultations tend to be less frequent;
  • Chiropractors call themselves “Doctor” – this is an honorary title not a medical one; osteopaths generally do not in NZ;

Some of the above is a generalisation; no two practitioners are the same and can have different techniques or perspective – some osteopaths treat like chiropractors and vice versa.  There are also good, bad and indifferent practitioners in both professions.  Obviously, I am an osteopath, and we see patients who have been to see chiropractors, who they have found to be ineffective, too “rough” or they have just not got along with.  That’s not to say that chiropractors do not see patients in their clinics saying similar things about osteopaths.

Word of mouth or referral from a reputable health professional, such as a GP, is an important factor when choosing to see any practitioner. I would strongly advise people NOT to see some who calls themselves a “manipulator” or “spinal specialist”, who “cracks” necks.  They are not professionally trained and they will not be regulated or insured.

All that said, I am an osteopath.  I became an osteopath because I found that osteopathy is the best form of manual therapy.  If I need manual treatment – as opposed to medication or surgery – I see an osteopath…

For more information on both professions in NZ, click on the following links:

www.osteopathiccouncil.org.nz or www.chiropractic.org.nz